Listen. Sometimes, I am so done with life for a minute. Do you know what I mean? Running around with kids all day listening to whining and hearing "Mommy!" all day long is exhausting enough. Throw in trying to get some work around the house done or catch up on laundry or meet up with a girlfriend, and it feels impossible. Maybe you are also working outside the home too. Cray - Z.
Maybe you don't have kids and your life looks completely different. The point remains. We are all exhausted. And I would guess we are all desperate for meaningful connection with other people. More than wishing your FB friend "happy birthday" or getting together for a cookout. More than small talk and lunch dates. We are all desperate for real, authentic, messy, sometimes ugly, bare your soul kind of connection. But we are SO FRIGGIN' TIRED.
I want that kind of closeness with God too. I want a REAL relationship with God. More than an emotional Sunday morning or a meaningful class at church. More than a good christian living book. More than knowledge of who He is and His character. More than operating in the Spirit even. I just want to be snuggled up next to Jesus. I want to be close enough to hear every whisper and every breath. But I am so friggin' tired.
Honestly. The day starts chaotic. It's usually a struggle to convince myself to connect with the Lord when I wake up. I tell myself the lie that at the end of the day, once the kids are in bed, I'll have my Jesus time. Yeah, right. If by Jesus time, you mean a glass of wine and binge watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
I have this best friend. Alex. She is the best person I've ever known. She is that kind of rare friend that calls you out on your crap, will sit with you in your crap, will pull you out of your crap, and will cry with you in the crap. She is that friend. She comes over to my house in fuzzy pajamas. She brings a bottle of wine. She cleans my kitchen when I'm just lazy. She is the only person allowed in my home when it is beyond "lived in" and more like "died in". It's never hard to be around her. She is someone I can tell anything to and know it's not going to change the way she loves me. In fact, I've told her some awful things about myself - things most people would have a hard time getting past - and she didn't distance herself from me. I can tell her anything, but we can also sit and not need to talk. It's not awkward, it's just that we're so close, we don't need to talk to enjoy hanging out. We can just sit on the couch and be around each other and it's better than being alone. There are no requirements when we are together. I may have a million things on my plate, but I've NEVER regretted putting those aside and hanging out with her - whatever we're doing. Those things on my plate are still there when we part, but it doesn't add any stress. It actually has only ever relieved stress being with Alex.
I think this is something God showed me today. We are all desperate for meaningful connection. We are all looking for our "Alex". God wants to fill that gap.
I swear, I have never once regretted spending time with God. Even if I didn't get what He was saying, even if I didn't hear anything terribly profound that day with Him, even if I had a huge list of "MUST DO" items, I have never once regretted time with Jesus. In fact, just like Alex, I feel relaxed and ready to handle that crazy list. I feel clear headed and ready to face the chaos. Sometimes I have answers for the day hidden in those sweet times with Jesus.
We are all desperate for connection. We are all looking for our "Alex". We all have an Alex in Jesus - only perfect (sorry Alex, but I know your stuff). That closeness we crave with the Lord is only realized when we choose Him over our to-do lists. When we choose Him over a schedule. When we choose Him over sleeping in. When we choose Him over wine and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Connection says, "You are my priority." Connection to things or schedules - there is no relationship that can be achieved there. Only loneliness. Connection to the Lord - there is abundant, overflowing, never ending, no matter how stupid you are, relationship.
What are you prioritizing? I've recently chosen to make time with God, not just the understanding of God, a priority. To treat Him as a person (a perfect, holy, eternal, person) instead of a book of instructions or a cosmic soda machine.
Maybe we can start making a real, deep connection with God and others and stop being so desperate and lonely. We get to choose that.
A couple days ago, I was alone in my car driving to a meeting and listening to a live worship album. This really powerful, anthemic song started playing and I started singing, swept up in the song. At one point in the song, the lead singer yells out, "Lift up a shout of praise!" and then THOUSANDS of voices began shouting and praising and crying out to God. It was one of those moments in worship when all the hairs on your head stand up, you get covered in goose bumps, and it's overwhelming to hear all of those people completely abandoning their sense of pride, their self image, their awareness of self all because of the presence of God. They knew he was near and they couldn't help but to shout praise.
Then something uncomfortable happened. I heard the voice of the Lord in a whisper, "Lift up a shout of praise." I immediately tried to dismiss it. I was singing out to the Lord. Why do I need to shout? I kept singing. Then I heard his voice again, "Lift up a shout of praise." This time, I started to argue with God. "Please don't ask me to do that. It's weird. Why do I need to yell in my car by myself. You know I'm an introvert. I don't do stuff like this. You know I love you. This doesn't prove that I love you." Once again, the Lord said "Lift up a shout of praise."
It was in that moment, I realized something. The Lord wasn't commanding me, he was requesting. And if I didn't do it, it meant I was withholding something valuable from the Lord. It said something about me I didn't want to be true. It said I was more concerned about my image, even though I was alone in my car, than I was concerned about what Father wanted.
I took a deep breath and let out my loudest scream. It was painfully loud in the confines of my car, but I screamed until all the air left my lungs. Immediately, the joy of the Lord swept over me and I was laughing and crying. I looked over to the empty passenger seat and I knew God was sitting in that car with me. He was laughing and crying along with me. I didn't just obey the Lord, I blessed the Lord.
In Luke 7, there is this beautiful story of a woman who stepped into a room full of men ( a big no no in her culture) and knelt at the feet of Jesus. She cried at his feet, wiped away her tears on his feet with her long hair, and then poured the most valuable, costly thing she owned on his feet - a bottle of perfume worth a year's wages. She anointed the Lord. She recognized she was standing in the presence of Jesus, stopped caring what anyone else thought, let go of her sense of self, and gave the thing that cost her the most to the Lord.
I'm not saying this next thought is what this story means according to scripture, but I am saying that I think the Lord showed me some beautiful truth about my relationship with him through the account of this woman's interaction with Jesus.
Whether 2000 people are experiencing the overwhelming presence of God or we are alone in our car, God's presence is thick. We just need eyes to see it. We need a heart bent toward perceiving his nearness.
Recognizing the presence of God demands humility. We can't escape that part of being in his presence. His beauty and glory are earth shattering. So many times when I've been in his presence, I can't help but pour out all of my pain and shame to the Father who has be constant. The Father who loves beyond measure when I have been so unfaithful. The Father who draws me close when I run away. The Father who holds me together when I am unravelling. Sometimes, we stop there, but if we listen closely, we hear Father speak truth over us. "Your pain does not define you. You don't need to carry that anymore. Your sin is wiped clean. I see all of your gold, and none of your dirt. I dealt with that on the cross. Now, child, I want to give you eyes to see yourself the way I do. I want to give you freedom from shame. You aren't broken when you are with me."
That is the moment we take our long hair, the beauty he has put on us and in us, and allow the new reality of being a new creation in Christ Jesus wipe away our shame and pain. Jesus erased our sin on the cross for us, why can't we accept we are clean? Why can't we accept the healing Father is offering? Why can't we accept the lightness of his burden?
When we accept those gifts and His truth, we get overwhelmed. How is He this good to us? We kiss his feet. We only kiss those we hold most dear. Our lips are reserved for those we love more than anyone. We kiss the feet of Jesus.
We are able to offer up the thing we hold in highest regard, our sense of self. Our pride, our "togetherness". We can stop bearing our image, and take on the image of God. God is love. He is a reckless, wild, crazy kind of love. God loves without regard to how foolish He may look to the world. After all, His ways seem foolish to men.
When we love God with a reckless, wild, crazy kind of love. A kind of love without regard to how foolish we may look to those around us, or even to ourselves, we bless the Lord. It's beyond obedience. It's anointing Jesus. It's anointing Father. It's anointing Spirit.
Do you withhold your blessing from the Lord? Do you withhold your affections and devotion from Him because it would be embarrassing. It would make you look like a fool or a weirdo? I have done that. I still do that. But I am learning to bless the Lord. I will tell my soul to bless the Lord, even when it's weird. Even when it's uncomfortable. Even when it costs me my ego.
So friend, bless Him with a shout of praise... even if you look like a weirdo.
A couple months ago, my sis and I took our kids to a state park and did a short hike. It was only a mile long and it was supposed to end at this beach on the lake with shells and fossils. It sounded like something our kids would really get a kick out of and we both like hikes, so we hit the trail. By trail, I mean paved sidewalk for the first portion. It was idyllic... at first. Sidewalks. A pond on the right, the lake on the left. Beautiful docks, ducks swimming, birds chirping, people walking their dogs, and cute older couples snuggling up on a bench. I was enjoying this part of the hike.
We went across a footbridge and into the woods. It was warm and muggy and there were bugs. Honestly, we were getting to the point in this short hike that I just wanted to get to that beach and kick my feet up in the sand, letting the kids run around finding shells. I was anxious to just get there already. I may not be in the best shape of my life either so when my almost two year old was done walking, carrying him (I didn't bring a baby backpack... genius, I know) felt like I was carrying a 10 lb sack of potatoes on the hike... except it was more like a 25 lb sack of potatoes that wouldn't stop whining and accidentally kicking me in the side.
My four year old was amazed on this hike in the woods. He has grown up in the desert, we recently moved back to Virginia, so seeing trees is new. Being surrounded by woods was like being on some alien planet. Some magical adventure. He wanted to stop at every tree root and try to pull it up from the ground. He wanted to touch every funny looking plant that we walked by. He wanted to look for rabbits, birds, bears, and monsters (which he firmly believes are real - and is unafraid). He was completely enraptured by the beauty of the woods. I was completely over it.
I know I'm a good mom, but this was one of my less than stellar moments in parenting. Instead of letting him take his precious time along the trail, I found that I kept hurrying him along, grabbing his hand to get him back on track and insisting we speed up. I knew what was at the end of this trail was better than the trail itself. I knew he would think this beach was even greater and more magical than the woods. I knew it was flipping hot and I was carrying a cranky little brother. I couldn't have been more impatient or silently irritated.
I'm not kidding you, God stopped me right in my tracks on that hike. I had turned around to explain for the fourteenth time that no matter how hard he yanked, those giant tree roots wouldn't come loose so he could use it as a sword, and before the words left my mouth, I heard the voice of God. "You think I'm hurrying you along in your life because the end is greater than the journey, but baby, I LOVE when you enjoy the small wonders on the way. I love when you take notice of all the hidden treasures I've put in the woods for you to find. Yes, we have a destination and yes, I will help you remember to follow the path we're walking together, but I want you to stop and look around from time to time. I want you to look back and see how far we've come. I want you to see the beauty all around you, even when you aren't there yet. Don't be in such a hurry. I'm not rushing you. I'm not irritated with you. I'm with you."
Honestly, I so love when God gives me a parenting lesson. Sometimes, the trees feel overwhelming. I feel swallowed up by the shadows they cast and that path is a narrow walk. Sometimes the heat and the discomfort really get to me and I'm just ready to get where we're going already. Get me out of this place, Lord. Get me to my destiny because the woods suck. I'm miserable here. I'm tired of walking. This load is too heavy to keep carrying, Lord, and it keeps kicking me when I'm already tired. Everything feels like it's slowing me down and I just want to arrive.
If we slow down. If we decide to face those trees without fear. If we believe the shadows can't harm us, we'll see so much beauty in the journey. So much wonder in the process of destiny. He has hidden treasures in the dark places for us to find. He has made the path narrow so we don't wander too far to the right or to the left. He is with us. He isn't waiting on the other side wondering when we are going to get our act together and show up. He is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us.
That lesson in parenting the heavenly Father taught me changed the rest of the day. It changed the rest of the days following too. So let me just encourage you the way He encouraged me. Baby, He has treasures and wonders hidden in the dark for you. Don't worry about showing up late. He isn't waiting at the end for you. He is with you. Don't be afraid of the darkness. It won't overtake you. It won't swallow you whole if you just grab onto His hand. He is with you.
Emmanuel. He is with you, baby.